Classifying a writer as an "overnight success years in the making" is something of a cliché, but in John Grogan's case, that designation is undeniably accurate. In fact, his claim that it took him twenty-five years to get to the point where his debut novel hit #10 on the coveted New York Times Bestseller List in its first week and amazingly was already in its twelfth printing after a mere seven weeks on the shelves, doesn't even provide the complete picture. If one takes into account the fact that Grogan has been a devoted and disciplined writer since he began keeping a journal as a young boy, his tale reads more like an overnight success story a lifetime in the making.
Perhaps most impressive of all is the book that became a whirlwind sensation as soon as it was released. Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog is a simple, lovingly rendered memoir about a man and his dog -- not exactly the stuff of lurid controversy. However, it is a testament to the universal power of a personal, witty, honest remembrance that Marley & Me has become such a smash success. It's not just any book that manages to get a "thumbs up" from Janet Maslin, famed literary critic of the New York Times. "Mr. Grogan knew the workings of Marley's mind," she observed in her career-making write up. "He makes that abundantly clear in Marley & Me, a very funny valentine to all those four-legged ‘big, dopey, playful galumphs that seemed to love life with a passion not often seen in this world.'"
Throughout the memoir, Marley manages to get into all manners of mischief -- from smashing and trashing the Grogan home in a variety of ways, to ruining friendly get togethers with his excessive drooling, to embarking on canine panty raids. Throughout it all, the 97-pound Labrador retriever is never anything less than lovable, and Grogan and his wife Jenny display nearly saint-like patience for Marley's rowdy tendencies -- well, they do at least most of the time.
Although humor plays a tremendous role in Grogan's immensely entertaining shaggy dog story (sorry about that, folks), he also uses Marley's misadventures as a means for relating his own story, which isn't always a delightful romp. The reader is carried through tough times in the Grogan household, such as the miscarriage of their first child. However, Marley's presence makes such moments of heartache a bit more bearable for both the young couple and the reader.
Grogan credits his ability to vividly recount such key moments in his life to his decades of devoted journal keeping. "I've been a faithful journal keeper since grade school," Grogan confided, "and many of my published pieces got their start as rough journal entries... Many readers have asked how I remembered detailed moments and dialogue in Marley & Me. I didn't. Many of those scenes came directly out of lengthy journal entries I had written within hours of the event, and that's what I credit for giving those scenes their immediacy."
Marley & Me has undeniably struck a massive chord with dog lovers and critics alike. The accolades this modest memoir has received are truly impressive; Booklist deemed it "A warm, friendly -memoir-with-dog" and Publishers Weekly concurred that "Dog lovers will love this account of Grogan's much loved canine." And let us not forget about that crucial blessing from the New York Times. Not bad for a first-effort that is essentially the story of a "boy" and his dog.
"It took me 25 years to find my way here, but the last few months have been like a rollercoaster ride," says Grogan. "I'm holding on for dear life and watching, with equal parts exhilaration and terror, where it will take me."